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USS Argonaut (SS-166)

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Subject: Battle of Makin, List of ships sunk by the Imperial Japanese Navy
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USS Argonaut (SS-166)

For other ships of the same name, see USS Argonaut.

USS Argonaut underway.
Career (United States)
Name: USS Argonaut
Builder: Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine[1]
Laid down: 1 May 1925[1]
Launched: 10 November 1927[1]
Commissioned: 2 April 1928[1]
Fate: Sunk by Japanese destroyers off Rabaul on 10 January 1943[2]
General characteristics
Type: V-4 (Argonaut)-class composite direct-drive diesel and diesel-electric submarine[2]
Displacement: Surfaced: 2,710 long tons (2,750 t)[3] (standard); 3,046 long tons (3,095 t) (full load)[4]
Submerged: 4,161 long tons (4,228 t)[4]
Length: 358 ft (109 m) (waterline),[5] 381 ft (116 m)[4] (overall)
Beam: 33 ft 9.5 in (10.300 m)[4]
Draft: 16 ft .25 in (4.8832 m)[4]
Installed power: 2 × 120-cell Exide ULS37 batteries,[6] 2 × Ridgway electric motors, 1,100 hp (820 kW) each,[2][4] 2 × shafts

Surfaced: 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h) (design);[4] 13.6 kn (15.7 mph; 25.2 km/h) (trials)[2]
Submerged: 8 kn (9.2 mph; 15 km/h) (design);[4]

7.43 kn (8.55 mph; 13.76 km/h) (trials)[4]
Range: 8,000 nmi (9,200 mi; 15,000 km) at 10 kn (12 mph; 19 km/h);[4] 18,000 nmi (21,000 mi; 33,000 km) @ 10 kn (12 mph; 19 km/h) with fuel in main ballast tanks[4]
Endurance: 10 hours @ 5 kn (5.8 mph; 9.3 km/h)[4]
Test depth: 300 ft (91 m)[4]
Capacity: 173,875 US gal (658,190 L) diesel fuel[8]

As Built: 8 officers, 78 men[9]

1931:[9] 7 officers, 9 chief petty officers,[9] 71 enlisted[4]
Armament: As Built: 4 × 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes (bow; 16 torpedoes),[4][9] 2 × 40 in (1,000 mm)[9]minelaying tubes aft (60mines),[4] 2 × 6 in (150 mm)/53 cal Mark XII Mod. 2[9] wet type[9] deck guns[4]
1942: 8 × 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes (4 bow, 4 external; 20 torpedoes),[9] minelaying tubes removed,[9] 2 × 6 in (150 mm)/53 cal Mark XII Mod. 2 wet type deck guns
Notes: Two Battle stars

USS Argonaut (SF-7/SM-1/APS-1/SS-166 (never formally held this classification)) was a submarine of the United States Navy, the first ship to carry the name. Argonaut was laid down as V-4 on 1 May 1925 at Portsmouth Navy Yard. She was launched on 10 November 1927, sponsored by Mrs. Philip Mason Sears, the daughter of Rear Admiral William D. MacDougall, and commissioned on 2 April 1928, Lieutenant Commander W.M. Quigley in command.


V-4 was the first of the second generation of V-boats commissioned in the late 1920s, which remain the largest non-nuclear submarines ever built by the U.S. These submarines were exempt by special agreement from the armament and tonnage limitations of the Washington Treaty. V-4 and her sister ships V-5 (Narwhal) and V-6 (Nautilus) were designed with larger and more powerful diesel engines than those that propelled earlier V-boats, which were failures. Unfortunately, the specially built engines failed to produce their design power, and some developed dangerous crankshaft explosions. V-4 and her sisters were slow in diving and, when submerged, were unwieldy and slower than designed. They also presented an excellent target to surface ship sonar and had a large turning radius.

Designed primarily as a minelayer, and built at a cost of US$6,150,000,[9] V-4 was the first and only such specialized type ever built by the United States. She had four torpedo tubes forward and two minelaying tubes aft. At the time of construction, V-4 was the largest submarine ever built in the U.S., and was the largest in U.S. Navy service for 30 years.[9]

Her minelaying arrangements were "highly ingenious, but extremely complicated",[9] filling two aft compartments.[9] A compensating tube ran down the center of the two spaces, to make up for the lost weight as mines were laid, as well as to store eight additional mines.[9] The other mines were racked in three groups around this tube, two in the fore compartment, one aft,[9] with a hydraulically driven rotating cage between them.[9] Mines were moved by hydraulic worm shafts, the aft racks connecting directly to the launch tubes,[9] which had vertically sliding hydraulic doors[9] (rather than the usual hinged ones of torpedo tubes). Each launch tube was normally loaded with four mines,[9] and a water 'round mines (WRM) tube flooded to compensate as they were laid, then pumped into the compensating tube.[10] Eight mines could be laid in 10 minutes.[11]

Inter-War Period

Following commissioning, V-4 served with Submarine Division 12 based at Newport, Rhode Island.

She proved perennially underpowered, but engine replacement was postponed by war,[9] and her MAN diesels were a constant source of trouble.[12]

In January–February 1929, V-4 underwent a series of trials off Provincetown, Massachusetts. On a trial dive during this period, she submerged to a depth of 318 ft (97 m). This mark was the greatest depth an American submarine had reached up to that time. On 26 February 1929, V-4 was assigned to Submarine Division 20 (SubDiv 20), and arrived at San Diego, California on 23 March. From there, she participated in battle exercises and made cruises along the West Coast.

V-4 was renamed Argonaut on 19 February 1931, and redesignated SM-1 (submarine, minelayer) on 1 July. On 30 June 1932, she arrived at Pearl Harbor, where she was assigned to SubDiv 7. She carried out minelaying operations, patrol duty, and other routine work. In October 1934 and again in May 1939, Argonaut took part in joint Army-Navy exercises in the Hawaiian operating area. Argonaut became the flagship of Submarine Squadron 4 (SubRon 4, commanded by Captain Freeland A. Daubin) in mid-1939 (although a known postmark dated 12/12/38 on an Argonaut cover [U.S. Submarine Argonaut A-1] reads between the killer bars: FLAGSHIP SQUADRON-4 HAWAII). The submarine returned to the West Coast in April 1941 to participate in fleet tactical exercises.

LT Richard O'Kane, who would win the Medal of Honor as the most successful United States submarine officer of World War II, began qualification in submarines aboard Argonaut in 1938 and remained aboard until the 1942 overhaul at Mare Island.[13]

World War II

On 28 November 1941 — Argonaut, commanded by Stephen G. Barchet — left Pearl Harbor and was on patrol near Midway Island when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. After sunset on 7 December, Argonaut surfaced and heard naval gunfire around Midway. It was assumed the Japanese were landing a large invasion force. Argonaut then submerged to make a sonar approach to the "invasion force." While designed as a minelayer and not an attack submarine, Argonaut made the first wartime approach on enemy naval forces.

The "invasion force" turned out to be two Japanese destroyers whose mission was shore bombardment on Midway. The ships may have detected Argonaut, and one passed close by the submarine. They completed the bombardment then retired before Argonaut could make a second approach.

One week later, Argonaut made contact with three or four Japanese destroyers. Barchet wisely decided not to attack. On 22 January 1942, she returned to Pearl Harbor and, after a brief stop, proceeded to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for major overhaul. While there, her diesels were replaced with Winton 12-258Ss[11] and her minelaying gear was removed.[9] She was also fitted with a Torpedo Data Computer[11] (lack of which likely inhibited her ability to score with torpedoes), new electronics,[11] and two external torpedo tubes for storage.[11] On return to Pearl Harbor, she was "hastily converted" to a troop transport submarine.[11]

Argonaut returned to action in the South Pacific in August. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz assigned Argonaut and Nautilus to transport and land Marine Raiders on Makin Island in the Gilbert Islands for the Makin Raid. This move was designed to relieve pressure on American forces that had just landed on Guadalcanal. On 8 August, the two submarines embarked 120[11] troops of Companies A and B, 2nd Raider Battalion, and got underway for Makin. Conditions during the transit were unpleasant, and most of the marines became seasick. The convoy arrived off Makin on 16 August, and at 03:30 the next day the Marines began landing. Their rubber rafts were swamped by the sea and most of the outboard motors drowned. The Japanese—either forewarned or extraordinarily alert—were ready for the Americans' arrival. Snipers were hidden in the trees, and the landing beaches were in front of the Japanese forces instead of behind them as planned. However, by midnight of 18 August, the Japanese garrison of about 85 men was wiped out; radio stations, fuel, and other supplies and installations were destroyed, and all but 30 of the troops had been recovered.


Argonaut arrived back in Pearl Harbor on 26 August. Her hull classification symbol was changed from SM-1 to APS-1 (transport submarine) on 22 September. She was never formally designated SS-166, but that hull number was reserved for her.[2] Her base of operations was transferred to Brisbane, Queensland, later in the year. In December, she departed Brisbane under Lieutenant Commander John R. Pierce to patrol the hazardous area between New Britain and Bougainville Island, south of Bismarck Archipelago. On 2 January 1943, Argonaut sank the Japanese gunboat Ebon Maru in the Bismarck Sea.[14] On 10 January, Argonaut spotted a convoy of five freighters and their escorting destroyersMaikaze, Isokaze, and Hamakaze—returning to Rabaul from Lae. By chance, an army aircraft—which was out of bombs—was flying overhead and witnessed Argonaut′s attack. A crewman on board the plane saw one destroyer hit by a torpedo, and the destroyers promptly counterattacking. Argonaut′s bow suddenly broke the water at an unusual angle. It was apparent that a depth charge had severely damaged the submarine. The destroyers continued circling Argonaut, pumping shells into her; she slipped below the waves and was never heard from again. 102 officers and men went down with her, the worst loss of life for a wartime submarine.[11] Her name was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 26 February.

Japanese reports made available at the end of the war recorded a depth charge attack followed by gunfire, at which time they "destroyed the top of the sub".

On the basis of the report given by the Army flier who witnessed the attack in which Argonaut perished, she was credited with damaging a Japanese destroyer on her last patrol. (Postwar, the JANAC accounting gave her none.) Since none of the histories of the three escorting destroyers report damage on 10 January 1943, the destroyer "hit" may have been a premature explosion.


Argonaut earned two battle stars for her World War II service.

See also

  • HMS M3- British minelaying submarine of same period.


  • This article incorporates text from the here.

External links

Coordinates: 5°40′14″S 153°54′56″E / 5.67056°S 153.91556°E / -5.67056; 153.91556

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